Race of Champions (1988-2018): 30 years of spectacle and racing fun
Thirty years ago, in 1988, the Race of Champions (ROC) was organized for the first time as a special event for rally drivers to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the WRC drivers’ competitions and as a memorial event to remember prematurely lost rally ace Henri Toivonen.
Today, the Race of Champions is probably the most popular international motorsport event which is gathering together racing drivers from various racing disciplines from all over the world to race against each other in identical cars.
‘Champion of the Champions’ title for nineteen drivers
The best among them are carrying the title Champion of the Champions. The list of winners is a proof how strong event is the Race of Champions because it features the names of nineteen (until 2017) racing aces and racing legends who have numerous world championship titles on their accounts, not counting all other championship titles collected across the world.
From the first Champion of the Champions Juha Kankkunen, who won in 1988 and one more time in 1991, to the 2017 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, the ROC winners list contains an impressive collection of names: Stig Blomqvist, Andrea Aghini, Didier Auriol, Francois Delecour, Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen, Harri Rovanpera, Marcus Gronholm, Sebastien Loeb, Heikki Kovalainen, Mattias Ekstrom, Filipe Albuquerque, Sebastien Ogier, Romain Grosjean, David Coulthard and Sebastian Vettel. We have to mention Michael Schumacher also, who was the six-time winner of the Nations Cup competition inside the ROC, but he never won the individual ROC title.
Eight world rally champions at the inaugural ROC meeting
The inaugural ROC meeting was first organized in 1988 by former rally driver Michele Mouton and Fredrik Johnsson from IMP (International Media Productions). The first event took place at the Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery near Paris.
All eight world rally champions between 1979 and 1988 came to the event, making it the real Race of Champions. The participants were Bjorn Waldegard, Walter Röhrl, Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, Timo Salonen, Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion. They were using six different rally cars, including Group B beasts which weren’t in use in the WRC anymore. In the final, Juha Kankkunen beat Timo Salonen, taking the Henri Toivonen Trophy.
The ROC visited Nürburgring, Barcelona and Madrid
In 1989, Nürburgring hosted the Race of Champions and Stig Blomqvist was the best among eight rally champions. In 1990, when the ROC took place in Barcelona, the event had been expanded with the International Rally Masters contest, designed to allow drivers who were not champions yet to qualify for the main event. Kenneth Eriksson was the first IRM winner while Stig Blomqvist repeated the ROC victory.
In 1991, the event took place in Madrid. Juha Kankkunen became the Champion of the Champions for the second time, beating Didier Auriol in the final.
Moving to Gran Canaria in 1992, staying there until 2003
In 1992, the event found a permanent home for the next 12 years at Spanish island of Gran Canaria. The first winner at Gran Canaria was Andrea Aghini, proving that drivers who have not WRC title on his tally could beat WRC champions. Two more drivers who did that were Francois Delecour in 1995 and Harri Rovanpera in 2001. Didier Auriol was the four-time winner at Gran Canaria. Other winners were Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen, Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb.
During a Gran Canaria period, the Classic Masters contest was introduced in 1994 and discontinued in 1999. The Rally Masters contest was on a programme until 2000. The ROC Legends and Junior Rally Masters were also part of a programme between 1999 and 2003, with Stig Blomqvist and Francois Duval as the multiple winners.
Nations Cup was introduced in 1999
In 1999, the Nations Cup was introduced and it’s still a part of the ROC event. The Nations Cup brought circuit racing drivers and motorcycle drivers into the competition. In the beginning, teams had three drivers from each category (rally, circuit, moto). The first winners were Tommi Makinen, JJ Lehto and Kari Tiainen (Team Finland).
Two years later, non-rally drivers were allowed to compete in the main ROC event but the rally drivers retained their dominance and scored victories.
Leaving Canary in 2004, three events at Stade de France
In 2004, the Race of Champions left Gran Canaria and since then the event adapted its format to stadium-based tracks. The new venue in 2004 was Stade de France in Saint-Denis near Paris.
The change from gravel to tarmac circuits saw rally drivers lose their dominance and the first non-rally driver won the event. It was Heikki Kovalainen, who came to event as a champion of the World Series by Nissan. In the final, he beat Sebastien Loeb. Another change in 2004 was that Nations Cup teams had two drivers instead of three.
Six consecutive Nations Cup wins for Schumacher, Vettel
After three events at Stade de France, the new venue in 2007 was London’s Wembley Stadium.In that event, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel clinched their first victory for Team Germany in the Nations Cup.
In the next five years, the stadiums were changing (London, Beijing, Düsseldorf, Bangkok) but the Nations Cup winners were always the same – Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. In the individual chase for the ROC trophy, Schumacher reached final two times but lost to Mattias Ekstrom both times.
David Coulthard came from retirement to victory
The 2013 Race of Champions was planned for December at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium for the second time but the event was cancelled due to political unrest in Bangkok.
In 2014, all contestants traveled to Bushy Park at Barbados island. David Coulthard became the Champion of the Champions and the first ever winner who is actually the retired racing driver.
Montoya as the first non-European ROC winner
In 2015, again in London, Sebastian Vettel finally became the Champion of the Champions after six wins in the Nations Cup. In the next event, the ROC Miami in January 2017, Vettel won Nations Cup all-alone because his teammate Pascal Wehrlein was injured in a crash. Juan Pablo Montoya became the ROC winner in Miami, as the first ever winner who is not from Europe.
For the 2018 Race of Champions, the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh has been chosen as a new venue and the ROC became the first international motorsport event to be held in Saudi Arabia.
Race of Champions winners
|Year||Location||Winner||Nations Cup winners|
|1988||Montlhery||Juha Kankkunen||not held|
|1989||Nürburgring||Stig Blomqvist||not held|
|1990||Barcelona||Stig Blomqvist||not held|
|1991||Madrid||Juha Kankkunen||not held|
|1992||Gran Canaria||Andrea Aghini||not held|
|1993||Gran Canaria||Didier Auriol||not held|
|1994||Gran Canaria||Didier Auriol||not held|
|1995||Gran Canaria||Francoi Delecour||not held|
|1996||Gran Canaria||Didier Auriol||not held|
|1997||Gran Canaria||Carlos Sainz||not held|
|1998||Gran Canaria||Colin McRae||not held|
|1999||Gran Canaria||Didier Auriol||Finland (Tommi Makinen, JJ Lehto, Kari Tianinen)|
|2000||Gran Canaria||Tommi Makinen||France (Gilles Panizzi, Yvan Muller, Regis Laconi)|
|2001||Gran Canaria||Harri Rovanpera||Spain (Jesus Puras, Fernando Alonso, Ruben Xaus)|
|2002||Gran Canaria||Marcus Gronholm||United States (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Colin Edwards)|
|2003||Gran Canaria||Sebastien Loeb||All-Stars (Gilles Panizzi, Cristiano da Matta, Fonsi Nieto)|
|2004||Saint-Denis||Heikki Kovalainen||France (Jean Alesi, Sebastien Loeb)|
|2005||Saint-Denis||Sebastien Loeb||Scandinavia (Tom Kristensen, Mattias Ekstrom)|
|2006||Saint-Denis||Mattias Ekstrom||Finland (Heikki Kovalainen, Marcus Gronholm)|
|2007||London||Mattias Ekstrom||Germany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)|
|2008||London||Sebastien Loeb||Germany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)|
|2009||Beijing||Mattias Ekstrom||Germany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)|
|2010||Düsseldorf||Filipe Albuquerque||Germany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)|
|2011||Düsseldorf||Sebastien Ogier||Germany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)|
|2012||Bangkok||Romain Grosjean||Germany (Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)|
|2014||Bushy Park||David Coulthard||Nordic (Tom Kristensen, Petter Solberg)|
|2015||London||Sebastian Vettel||England (Jason Plato, Andy Priaulx)|
|2017||Miami||Juan Pablo Montoya||Germany (Sebastian Vettel)|